Friday, March 6, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
The opportunity to spend time in such a different culture will probably not arise again for me, and I don’t regret taking up the challenge.
What’s good about this place? Well, the food is abundant and very good on the whole, the climate is generally good, and you can soon get used to the heat.
What’s not so good? Unfortunately, the corruption has to be mentioned. Of course, there is corruption everywhere in the world, but in Cameroon, it has almost become an art form. “People are confident they won’t get caught”, a lawyer told me. The press contains stories almost every day about officials misappropriating funds, but very few are ever brought to justice.
I’m writing this in Yaoundé the capital where I’m spending a few days before flying back. It’s interesting to compare Bamenda and Yaoundé. The capital is much more developed in turns of its buildings, its roads and its businesses. I can now see why citizens of Bamenda complain about being neglected by the big cities. The differences are compounded by the language barrier or linguistic differences. As is the case in Wales, while the country is bilingual, not all its citizens are, so Yaoundé looks both privileged and foreign to Bamenda people.
I have met some extraordinary and committed people in this country, such as the volunteers for charitable organisations who do not even receive travelling expenses for their efforts. I have also met people who live in very difficult circumstances – no water or electricity, no lock on the door – who smile and take delight in simple pleasures.
Regarding religion I have met Bahais, one Buddhist and with Christians of all colours. Many of the Christians take the commitments of their faith seriously, but I have seen evidence of ‘religiosity’ too.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
On Wednesday I was visited by a delegation from Bafut representing the epilepsy organisation CODEF. They were very kind, had bought a calabash of palm wine with them –and, most unexpectedly, a number of Cameroonian gifts. I really don’t think that I deserve them.
What conclusions can I draw about this vast, intriguing country after some eight weeks? I ought to say that I am fairly optimistic. This is a relatively peaceful country. Despite some disturbances a year ago, this is no powder keg ready to explode.
Monday, February 23, 2009
A few more pictures of Cameroon, again. Sorry, Jayne, no lions or giraffes or elephants - although I have seen the last elephant shot in the North West.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Cameroon is not the place to be if you are not fond of dusting. Dust everywhere. While I was in Bafut last Monday there was a tremendous rain shower, noisy and sudden, but Bamenda had to wait until last night (Saturday) for some rain to keep the red dust down.
Thursday’s workshop went well, and the group of seventeen participants, including three from the councils took an active part in proceedings. It is interesting how groups seemingly put together at random can vary so much. The same presenter, more or less the same content, but this group was much more participative.
I’m trying at present to work out where I am against the budget for my project in Cameroon. That is easier said than done, because I’m faced with bewildering confetti of receipts and other scraps of evidence. Some traders do not give receipts, and the taxis never do. A further complication is that the sums seem huge. With 655 CFA francs to the euro at the official exchange rate, the figures soon become gigantic. I’m beginning to understand the term "creative accountancy"!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The second epilepsy sufferer I visited was Evon, a young mother with twins of a year old. Sadly, she has not breastfed them, on advice from her mother, who fears that the epilepsy will be transmitted to the infants through their mother's milk. As a result the children are clearly malnourished.
I also had the opportunity of meeting a team of volunteers in the Bafut area, including the Deputy Mayor of Bafut, who have taken part in a survey of epilepsy in the region, recording some thousand names. The volunteers visit both the sufferers and their carers. Frequently people with epilepsy are socially isolated, and there , I'm sorry to say, a popular opinion that their health condition is caused by evil spirits. CODEF is trying to overcome this perception.
Epilepsy is not seen as a priority here, in the way that HIV / AIDS is. There is simply no provision. Even where drugs are prescribed (the only such drug seems to be phenobarbitone), they are not taken, because of the high costs, particularly in this poor area, which relies on subsistence farming.
You'll gather that I have been much moved by what I have seen and heard, and I am determined to do what I can on the personal level. so that the work of CODEF can continue and be expanded. A small sum goes a long way in an area like this.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
My eight weeks and five days here are running out at great speed. The end is nigh!
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’ve met many interesting people during my time in Cameroon. These include Africans and non-Africans. I’ve been particularly impressed by two Austrian ladies, Gerda Themel and Bettina Leidl, whose small organisation Women's Cooperation International is making an important contribution to the education and training of girls and women. You can see something about that organisation (in German) at http://www.womenscooperation.at/index2.htm
Here are a couple of paragraphs about them.
"Poverty is female - in the rich industrial nations, but particularly in the poor countries in the world. According to experts' estimations more than one billion people live in poverty, 70% of them are women.
We at "Women's Cooperation International" think that "if we are so well-off in the rich countries, why don't we try to give some of it to others...? Why don't we try to strengthen women in the so-called Third World?" The principle is help towards self-help. In Sri Lanka it began in 2004... and it is continuing. In terms of international women's solidarity for the women in distant countries who are not so well-off."
I’ve been able to see first-hand some of the results of their practical interventions in the Bali area. They don’t give money, but after consultation with the women themselves, they do pay, for example, for adult literacy and numeracy classes, and for exercise books and pens, and for equipment needed by the women for their subsistence farming. Their work is really practical and inspiring.
It was with Gerda and Bettina that I went back to both Mankon and Bafut. Going back to a place previously visited after a gap of a few weeks was worth doing. Firstly, we were able to meet the Fon in Mankom – he had not been there on the previous occasion. the Fon boasted of having met the Queen ...
The pictures here, from top to bottom, show:
- Bettina (left) and Gerda (right) with the Fon
- The Fon on his throne
- The Fon (left) and me
- A live, squawking chicken being auctioned at Mount Carmel
Friday, February 13, 2009
- Pigs at the Fon's palace in Babungo
- One of the Fon's wives
- Muslim pupils
- Trying to win the big prize - a bottle of coca cola
- Boy pupils prepare to march
- The latest workshop. It's a challenge to present to such a multi-national group. Note that the Welsh flag has pride of place!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
On Tuesday evening, thanks to a chance meeting, I was invited to dinner with an American family a couple of miles from Bamenda. The husband works for an educational and linguistic organisation called SIL. I remember it as the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Chris told me about the Kom Education Pilot Project, KEP, in which there is strong evidence that teaching through the mother tongue (Kom in this case) gives much better results than teaching in English. There is some information on http://pnglanguages.org/africa/cameroun/news/index_e.html
The following results are very interesting for the Welsh context:
• The top two schools were mother tongue schools
• 6 of the top 7 schools were mother tongue schools
• 5 of the lowest 6 performing schools were English medium
• Mother tongue schools outperformed English-medium schools by 23.3 points.
From the same report: “These differences are statistically significant, supporting the hypothesis that mother tongue education does indeed have long-term educational benefits”.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
They had a local driver who had brought them from Yaounde, and thus it was that I was offered a ride to visit the Bali Women’s Union of Farming Groups (BAWUFAG). This group of women was being funded by the Viennese ladies who wanted to check that it really exists. Clearly it does, and funding will continue for literacy and numeracy for knitting and crotcheting classes and more. They women sang to us visitors, “Women are building a nation here” and songs in the Mungaka language before we left.
We went on with local people from the project to an audience with the local traditional ruler, the Fon of Bali. The Fon had lived and studied in Germany, so he spoke German fluently. He spoke German to me and the Austrian ladies. Indeed the entire audience took place bilingually in German and Mungaka. Protocol tips to anyone intending to visit a Fon. Don’t cross your legs in his presence, don’t try to shake his hand; instead greet him with a slow rhythmic clap.
I’ve made a few more visits to a range of organisations to discuss mentoring and coaching issues. A visit with my colleagues Eric and Paul along dirt roads to a youth organisation in Bafut was a particularly stimulating one. They offered us lunch, and for the first time I ate – and enjoyed – yam in pepper soup.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
On three occasions today people have approached me, started up a conversation, then asked for money. Tonight while I was eating at Sam’s just near the Baptist centre, a lady of, perhaps, fifty, came in and sat at my table. She told me her story then asked for money to buy water. As it happened I had 200 francs in small change in my pocket, then nothing but a huge note. She accepted the contribution and left. How should I react? Suggestions, please!
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
On Monday I held a full day of training on the management of change, with thirteen representatives of the leading Civil Society Organisations. The content focussed on both change within organisations and in the wider society. The biggest such change on the horizon is decentralisation, although the government in Yaoundé seems to be dragging its feet. The feedback sheets were positive and will help me in delivering the same workshop again, but with some changes. I'm putting together a pack for trainers on the management of change to leave behind me.
Oh, yes, Cameroonian time. There is a local tendency here to be very, very, flexible about timing. The bus bringing me from Douala was scheduled to leave at 9,00 am but in fact left at 11.30 am. The training session on Monday was meant to start at 10.00 am but started half an hour late. Participants, like some bus travellers assume that things will start late.
A young woman was taking her pet monkey for a walk at the Baptist compound yesterday. The monkey seemed to be well cared for.
The frequent power cuts here can be annoying, to say the least. There was sudden darkness several times yesterday evening. Access to the internet is also patchy. Finally the quality of the telephone network is less than ideal, with calls being cut off sometimes, and the sound quality being less than ideal at all times. Local people put up with all of this with few complaints.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Of the mountains where in childhood I would roam. I have dwelt 'neath southern skies.
Where the summer never dies, But my heart lies in the mountains of my home”
The summer never dies here. Indeed, it’s strange to be in a country without what we know as seasons. Another hot day (31 degrees) here today.
Late on Friday I took the night bus to the fleshpots of Douala in order to ... attend the AGM of the Cameroon Esperanto Association. The meeting was held entirely in that language, and a new chairman and committee were elected. The meeting opened with a lusty rendering of the Esperanto hymn “La Espero”, a practice which has faded away a little in Europe. After the meeting we went to have a drink, and the disagreements of the AGM were forgotten, as people laughed and joked in the sunshine.
As usual, my hosts Victor and Dhome were kind and attentive – maybe too kind, because I was taken to a nightclub until 3pm on Sunday morning, having had no sleep since I got up on Friday morning.
The pictures show Victor Nto Nto, new President of the Esperanto Association of Cameroon and some of those who attended. And I can't help adding one of two children playing in the street in Douala. They do have shoes, but chose not to wear them.
Monday, February 2, 2009
There local people (mostly women but some men) had gathered in this building with no windows, no piano and no electricity to learn some items for a singing festival. The song or hymn they were singing was in the local Bali language called Mungaka. No one was using paper or sheet music. (In fact the literacy rate for this language is fairly low. It is very much the language of the heart and hearth, and used within the community.) The conductor presented the four parts himself, teaching words and tune at the same time. I was witnessing “note bashing”, that very first introduction to a piece. He sang, then the people with that voice followed on copying him – sometimes an octave higher. I’d like to see Trystan practice this technique with the Conwy Valley Mixed Choir or with Cor Meibion Maelgwn. It worked! The singers were used to this approach, and they responded positively. The sound was breath-takingly good. They were very disciplined too, in focusing on the task in hand. Penny and I applauded them, then on a whim, I sang them Calon Lan as a solo (no sniggering there!) and they were polite enough to applaud. One lady just in front of me was even picking up the melody and humming along.
Then we went on to a wake in the village at the house of a highly respected local man who was interested in the betterment of his community and had recently passed away. Badges showing an image of the dear departed were sold to raise money for the food – traditional African food. In the back yard women were preparing and cooking all sorts of ingredients. This was clearly a cheerful, co-operative activity, and although this was a wake, there was much merriment. Coco-yams were being pounded in a wooden trough-like mortar. The resultant white mixture is wrapped in palm leaves, then cooked. The result is a sort of gelatinous mashed potato-like substance which served with njama njama, made from huckleberry leaves, palm oil tomatoes, and onions. Women were preparing fish – the head is the best bit - while men chopped wood for the fires. Oh, and I had my first taste of palm wine - and I can't remember much after that.